Editing Your Life with Graham Hill

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Graham Hill speaks in the slow, confident tone of someone who works too hard to be enamored by their own success. He doesn’t say much. But when he does talk, he mentions amazing feats, like his time on the Plastiki – a catamaran made from recycled water bottles which sailed across the Pacific – with such passing simplicity that you might think he was merely recounting an interesting article he’d glanced over, rather than a once in a lifetime adventure he’d undertaken. He is, in short, a very nice guy who does very cool stuff. His newest project, LifeEdited, is no different.

“So the basic concept behind LifeEdited,” he said, Continue reading Editing Your Life with Graham Hill

Moving Beyond Bandaids with LivelyHoods

“Alex, have you ever made this much money in your life?”

The young man had sold four products in a single day and was going to earn a respectable $30 in commission. He got very quiet, and a hesitant smile spread across his face, eyes sparkling.

“Yes”

“Really? When?”

“Only when I was stealing.”

That story was related to me by Maria Springer of the Kenya based social startup LivelyHoods as we skyped from half a world apart. Springer and her co-founder and longtime friend Tania Laden are addressing social issues in Kenya via a two-prong approach. First identifying promising street youth and offering them training and employment in salesmanship. Then putting the team to work selling socially beneficial goods (think clean burning stoves, solar lamps, and feminine hygiene products) to people in the surrounding area. Their hope is to use entrepreneurship to offer economic opportunity and a standard of living previously unknown to the slums of Kenya.

And the model is working! Their first shop opened in Nairobi in 2011, and since then has trained and employed more than 65 youth salespeople. It was showing an operational profit in a little over a year, which is amazing for any retail location, and has prompted the team to open its second location, which officially kicked things off in the middle of August.

“We had no idea how talented these young people were going to be at sales,” Maria said of their brand’s impressive growth, “I mean, just incredible, natural salespeople.”

LivelyHoods funded the second store through an amazing Indiegogo campaign, which raised more than $27,000 without levying even one single ounce of guilt, or what’s known in the industry as “Poverty Porn”. No pictures of starving babies, no tent cities or thousand yard stares. Just a sincere, even comedic call for legitimate solutions to solvable problems. Oh, and one crazy stunt: Springer vowed to wear 25 bandaids on her face throughout the campaign, one for every thousand dollars they wished to raise. A call for an end to temporary “BandAid solutions” to social problems. She did, and dozens of fans jumped in on the #BeyondBandAids campaign, posting pictures of themselves all over the world with colorful strips of elastic rubber adhered to their cheeks and foreheads.

“It was a way to make talking about job creation fun. You know what I mean? Like, that’s typically pretty yawn-worthy,” she laughed.

And they’re not just changing the conversation on employment. They’re changing the perception of what street youth are capable of, and they’re changing lives. Take the young man, Alex, from the story at the beginning of this piece. His early life was characterized by drifting in and out of orphanages, and hustling the streets of Kangaware just to survive. Unfortunately that story’s not so unique. Kenya is a nation of roughly 40 million, where 75% of the youth are unemployed, three-hundred thousand of whom are estimated to be living on the streets. But when he began work with LivelyHoods Alex was transformed into someone truly remarkable. He showed an instant capacity for sales, rising in just days to the top of the leaderboard, and setting records that remain unbroken. Today, he works as the group’s Director of Recruitment. And while he’s certainly headed for a promising future, it’s his words about his past that Springer will never forget. Words straight from the source on what matters most even to those who have least. His new job provided for him in a way that only stealing once could. And he was the top salesman. What did that say about his peers?

“It was at that moment,” Springer said with a tone that can only come from remembering something that truly changed you, “that my co-founder and I realized that in some cases these young people are willing to take a pay cut in exchange for dignity, in exchange for opportunity, and in exchange for a future, and that… Well, I guess there’s a lot you could say about that”

This article originally appeared on MISSION.tv You can find it and a ton of other great articles on social good here

 

Turning Trash to Treasure

 

It’s surf season in southern California. Well, some might say every season is surf season in SoCal. But the summer’s particular blend of vacation time, warm weather, and bikinis on the beach makes it a special time in the region’s year-round surf calendar. The smells of sunscreen and wet neoprene fill the salty air from La Jolla to Santa Barbara as people fill the beaches and riders flock to the waters at Lower Trestles, Huntington Beach, Bolsa Chica, and dozens more in search of the perfect wave. The northern swells are shutting down, but the big southern waves are rolling in, and when they hit hard you’ll be sure to find a handful of broken surfboards in the trash cans that line the state’s beaches.

Under normal conditions no one’s quite sure how long those boards would take to disappear.

The best estimates for biodegradation of the foam and fiberglass that make up most surfboards is around a million years. But of course, that’s just an estimate. Styrofoam’s only been around since about 1941, so it hasn’t even existed long enough for us to find out how long it takes to de-exist. In fact, we haven’t existed long enough to do so. Let’s say Jesus surfed. If the Vatican got their hands on his board tomorrow it would really still be more new than old – only .2% of the way through its breakdown process. If the very first homo sapien walked into this world carrying a surfboard, broke it, and chucked it on some cenozoic beach somewhere it would only be a fifth of the way through its decomposition today, and could witness the rise and fall of modern civilization eighty times over again before disappearing. Left to their own, surfboards last a very, very long time.

But in the hands of Ed Lewis and Kipp Denslow of Enjoy Handplanes those old broken boards disappear in a matter of days – re-shaped, re-painted, and returned to the economy as one-of-a-kind handplanes for bodysurfing.

“We feel really good about it,” said Lewis during our chat at their brand new shop just north of San Diego, “We’re a filter. Taking other people’s trash, and creating something that’s artistic and functional.”

It may seem natural that two surfers would end up starting a company that recycles old boards into equipment for bodysurfing. But they’ll tell you that the idea couldn’t have been further from their minds just a few short years ago. Lewis was a freelance web designer, Denslow a “garage surfboard-shaper-glasser-kinda-guy”, and neither one had ever heard of a handplane. Lewis sought Denslow’s help in constructing a more eco friendly all-wooden surfboard kit he’d received, and the two men bonded over fatherhood, and their love of the surf.

“On Thursday nights we’d have our daughters come together, and we’d glass this board in his house,” Lewis said, “Eventually we got into this movement of sustainable surfing, and we just really got into it.”

Their attention turned to what to do with all the broken surfboards they saw lying around their beaches, and lining the curbs on garbage day whenever big swells rolled in. The answer came from a chance encounter with legendary surfer John Peck.

“He pulled this handplane out of his van and was like ‘this is what I’m playing with these days’,” said Lewis, “and I was looking at it and I didn’t even know what it was. I didn’t even know what it was used for” he laughed.

Turns out what it’s used for is making a day at the beach a whole hell of a lot more fun. A handplane is like a tiny surfboard for your hand. Its size and shape help to reduce drag while bodysurfing, increasing your speed and pulling you into waves more easily. Their size and shape seemed perfect for up-cycling the old broken boards, and Kipp quickly turned one out in his shop.

“I took this thing out in the water,” Lewis said, “and I caught a few waves, and I just started laughing. It was so fun, it was like being a little kid again. So I stopped surfing for three months, and just bodysurfed.”

Word spread organically as surfers caught sight of what he was doing and began requesting handplanes of their own. Lewis started posting pictures of each creation on his blog, and all of a sudden Enjoy had an international audience. GoPro got in touch after seeing that they’d begun including camera mounts on some of their models, and after catching wind of their surfing related eco-effort Patagonia began carrying them.

Every single handplane is a custom creation, made from a recycled board that otherwise would have gone into the trash. The hand straps are made from recycled wetsuits, and many of the designs are actually recycled shirt fabric that they’ve glassed into the board. They use an environmentally friendly resin rather than polyurethane, pack their handplanes in cardboard boxes rescued from the trash, and seal them with a biodegradable packing tape. They’re even searching for innovative uses for their scrap foam.

This is good business for sure, but the eco-concern goes deeper than mere marketing. I asked Ed if they considered themselves social entrepreneurs and was met with a pause, then a chuckle “Was there a day we were supposed to sign papers on that?” he asked. His way of saying that you don’t give yourself the title of social entrepreneur. You’re either truly concerned with your company’s responsibility to the world, or you’re not.  Enjoy’s model is about true responsibility, the kind that a parent feels for their child. In fact, it was that same paternal instinct – the desire to be a good influence – that originally gave rise to the logo that would become their name.

“Surfing went through its rebellious faze, and now that I’ve got kids I just want to set a more positive example,” said Lewis “When Kipp asked me to create a logo for these boards he was making I started thinking about what just a simple, positive message would be, and I thought of that word – enjoy. He tried it out on the first handplane, and the name just kind of stuck.” It’s more than a logo though. More than a brandname too. It’s a signature, the symbol of the collected efforts of everyone behind the handplane. It’s also a call to action. A one-word reminder that trash doesn’t have to be trash. With creativity it can be spun around, re-imagined, and re-released into the world as something brand new. Something that’s artistic, and functional, and green. Something that the end user will ultimately – totally – enjoy.

Finding The Key To Life

 

Here are two facts that you’ll probably never need again: The first is that if you Google “what is the answer to life the universe and everything”, the search engine will respond appropriately that the answer is forty-two. The second fact is that when driving to Key West from the marshy grasslands of Florida’s southern tip, you’ll wander more than a hundred miles out into the ocean – much farther out than a car has any business being – and will cross precisely forty-two bridges.

This second fact was revealed to us by our tour guide, Phil, as we jetted beneath the fleeting shade of bridge number 41, flying over the water at a speed somewhat approaching that of sound on sleek, red, Yamaha jet skis. The smell of sunscreen mixed with the plasticky scent of rented life-jackets and wave runner exhaust, and the sun bounced blindingly off the crystal clear, mangrove filtered surf. Following the bubble trail left by Phil’s machine, we nosed between sets of red and green buoys, away from the placid waters of the of the island’s gulf-side, and out toward the deeper blues and blacks of the Atlantic.

If you’ve ever spent time in a lake community, you know that absolutely everyone hates jet skiers. They make too much noise, travel way too fast, and perform absurdly dangerous stunts – barreling straight towards a canoeist say, just to watch them squirm before turning on a dime and zooming off towards some swimmers. Nobody quite understands why they do what they do. Nobody, that is, who’s never tried it. But the moment you straddle a wave runner of your own, everything makes sense. The wind in your hair and spray in your eyes as water speeds past inches from your feet. Nothing between you and certain death but your own white-knuckle, throttle-pinning grip on the controls. From front to back a jet ski is a machine built for speed, responding solely to the throttle, and is ordained by god to scare the bejesus out of pissant canoeists.

“You see that there?” Phil asked, slowing to an idle and nodding toward a patchy white sandbar which lay just beneath the water on our left. “That there’s the closest you’ll get to a real beach on Key West. The islands have no natural sand deposits, so anything touristy has to be trucked in.”

The three of us drifted for a second in silence, then Phil goosed his throttle and we were off. Waves patchworked our path like ski moguls, launching the machines out of the water, and raising the throaty hum of the engines to a whine as they sucked nothing but air before shuddering back into the sea. Explosions of salty spray stung my eyes until I couldn’t keep them open anymore and resorted to riding blind, checking every once in a while to ensure I wasn’t on land. We rode and rode, over countless waves and along seemingly endless miles of coast. Nothing else in the world existed. There was just the sun, and the surf, speed, and a couple of ridiculous smiles painted on faces.

A jet ski is only maneuverable while the throttle’s torked. Once you let off, you venture aimlessly wherever surf, and wake, and providence care to take you. This is what we did near the southern tip of the island, drifting lazily and looking to shore at the scattering of tourists climbing proudly, if wearily, out of their cars to stretch their legs and pose by the famous marker for U.S. Route 1’s Mile Zero, the end of the road. The sun hung low in the sky, still shy of sunset, but not by much. Soon the restaurants downtown would fill up. Country music would echo – comically out of place – from the darkened smoke-filled recesses of Irish pubs. Hispanic men in fedoras and aloha shirts would pedal hand rolled cigars from street carts while actors roamed the cobblestone roads in full pirate dress, working to draw couples into wedding costume, or themed lingerie shops. Sword swallowers, torch jugglers, and fire dancers would take to the pier at Mallory Square for the nightly sunset celebration, wowing crowds with their deft precision, and unleashing a sharp tongue on anyone who watched the show, but chose not to tip.

I watched as more road warriors climbed from their cars to take pictures with the Mile Zero sign, amused at the fact that I would forever be immortalized as some guy on a jet ski, way off in the background of somebody else’s profile picture. Amused that they’d crossed 42 bridges, and roughly a hundred and twenty-six miles – which is 42 three times over – of ocean to get here. We drifted for a minute and it seemed that perhaps Key West was itself the answer to life the universe and everything. Then we throttled up, and motored off, rocketing to our top speed, and scanning the horizon for the tell tale silhouette of a canoe.